In English Voices From Spain

Nightmare in Barcelona

Photo by Nenad Spasojevic on Unsplash

Originally published in Spanish. ‘Pesadilla en Barcelona’ Javier Cercas. El País.

15th May 2018

It bears repeating once again, in the hope that by sheer repetition we finally believe it: Joaquim Torra, gleaming Catalan regional president, is an enthusiast of Estat Català, a fascist or para-fascist and secessionist party that in the 1930s set up violent militias with the aim of sending them to armed conflict; he is also an enthusiast of of their leaders, particularly the infamous Badia brothers, two terrorists and torturers that Mr. Torra defined, as Xavier Vidal-Folch reminded yesterday in this paper, as “the best examples of independentism”. The word “enthusiast” is not, thus, an exaggeration. Barely four years ago, in an article titled “Pioneers of independence” published by El punt/Avui newspaper, Mr Torra wrote this about Estat Català and Nosaltres Sols! (a current within Estat Catalá spawned from a clandestine paramilitary network): “Now that the country has embraced what they defended for so long, I think it’s only fair to remember them and thank them for so many years of lonely fight. What a lesson, what a magnificent lesson!”.

All this is more or less commonly known; it is less known, though, that the party so revered by Mr. Torra survived the civil war and resurfaced during the democratic transition. Indeed, the archives of the Universidad Autónoma of Barcelona keep a booklet signed by Nosaltres Sols! that, according to historian Enric Ucelay-Da Cal, was published around 1980. It is written in Catalan, eight pages long of typewritten text and it’s titled “the scientific basis of racism”. It concludes this way: “Hence, we consider that the Catalan racial makeup is more purely white than the Spanish one and hence Catalans are racially superior to Spaniards”. Any run-off-the-mill nazi ideologue would have signed these words if we replace “German” for “Catalan” and “Jew” for “Spaniard”. Is this the lesson, the magnificent lesson that, according to Mr. Torra, all of us Catalans should learn from his beloved independence pioneers? The answer can only be yes, judging by the articles and tweets that Mr. Torra wrote during the last few years and that we have discovered, in astonishment, these days, where Spaniards are always described as undesirable, deserving expulsion from Catalonia (“There’s no room for everybody here”, he wrote in 2010 apropos of two Catalan socialists with Spanish surnames). In his first interview as a candidate, Mr. Torra made a statement about this xenophobic garbage: “I apologize if someone understood my words as offensive” Gosh! Perish the thought! Who in their right mind would find it offensive to be described as a filthy, fascist, violent, plunderer as you do with millions of people in your writings? The question that arises now is: Does Mr. Torra’s wild xenophobia represent current secessionism? Is this what lied behind the transversal, tolerant, open and embracing nationalism that Catalanists preached in Catalonia and that so many of us believed for years (although we were not nationalists)? One can very well understand that Mr. Puigdemont and three or four fools like him may share Mr. Torra’s views. But are those views also endorsed by the PDeCAT, the old Convergència of Pujol, Roca and Mas? Are they endorsed by ERC and CUP, parties which brand themselves as leftist? And if they don’t endorse them, how is it possible that they have allowed him to become president with their votes? Because it’s not just that Mr. Torra may not deserve to be the Catalan president; he doesn’t deserve to be anyone’s political representative at all; and the Catalan parties that retain a modicum or sanity and dignity should have demanded his prompt resignation as a member of parliament. How long would have any Spanish representative lasted if they wrote about Catalans the sort of brutal screeds that Mr. Torra wrote about Spaniards and expressed, just last week, their enthusiasm for Falange, the Spanish equivalent to Estat Català?

That’s enough about disgust and shame, now comes fear. Because in the Catalan parliament Mr. Torra vowed to do, in the name of (but with absolute contempt for) democracy, exactly the same things that drove Catalonia to two stormy months after the coup unleashed on September 6th and 7th during which the country was split in two and was on the brink of civil conflict and economic ruin (a ruin that some economists whisper it will be difficult to avoid: a slow death). Of course, this xenophobic enthusiast of a fascist party finds himself able to fulfill his ominous promise, because as soon as he is sworn in he will have at his disposal a police force with seventeen thousand men, very powerful mass media, a multi-billion-Euro budget and the vast resources with which Spanish democracy endowed the Catalan autonomous government, in addition to things like the education of thousands upon thousands of kids. Having said that, I can only add that I would feel much more reassured if the Catalan president were a just-escaped intern from the Sant Boi mental asylum with a chainsaw in his hands.

Sometimes history does not repeat as a farce, as Marx believed, but as a nightmare; this is what is happening in Catalonia now. Mr. Torra is right about one thing: for some time now, the whole Catalan nationalist block, two-million-people strong, seems to have embraced the ideas defended in the thirties by Estat Català and Nosaltres Sols!; most separatists are not aware of that, of course, but it is what explains Mr. Torra becoming president. To put it another way: yesterday was the ascent to power of those that, since the thirties and until very recently were seen as dangerous extremists, if not outright demented. In these circumstances, I don’t know if it’s worth asking for the help of the Spanish government, that has not even been able to explain what’s going on in Catalonia to European public opinion; I ask for the help of the democratic state, of Europeans, of Spaniards and good-faith Catalans -including good-faith separatists-: we have to stop this nightmare.

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